OREM — Over the years the SCERA in Orem has become one of my favorite local theaters. Whether it is inside productions like Catch Me if You Can or outdoor like the recent Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical, they repeatedly deliver professionally mounted and delightful shows at low admittance costs. It is this history of quality that left me a little underwhelmed with their recent production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music. It has its strengths as a show, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting it to be significantly better.
As I said, The Sound of Music, is a 1959 Broadway musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. While wildly successful as a stage musical, winning 5 Tony Awards, it is one of the rare musicals that was drastically improved in its film adaptation. Directed by Robert Wise, the movie added new songs, moved scenes around, and ended up with one of the most beloved films of all time winning Oscars for best picture and director.
Not that we should be comparing the show at a local theater like the Scera to the movie but some unfamiliar with the Broadway version might be surprised by the changes. Songs like, “My Favorite Things,” and, “The Lonely Goatherd,” play out quite differently in the musical than in the film and audiences should be aware of the differences. There are also songs removed for the film like, “How Can Love Survive,” and, “No Way to Stop It,” that might surprise audiences.
The biggest strength of a show like The Sound of Music is the community spirit and the great classic songs. This spirit is the best part of the new production at Scera and in that sense it is a success. All of the von Trapp children in the cast are energetic and sweet and one can tell they are all having a great time putting the show together.
The standouts in the cast are Savannah Carrasco as the oldest child Liesl von Trapp and Sarah Neipp as Mother Abbess. Carrasco recently represented Utah on Broadway at The Jimmy Awards and that experience can be felt in her excellent singing and dancing. Neipp delivers the best singing of the night nailing the high notes of, “Climb Every Mountain.”
I also appreciate the way director Allison Books used the outdoor theatre to its full advantage. During the concert scenes actors dressed as Nazi guards even move up and down the aisles glaring at the patrons, and then when the von Trapps escape through the mountains, they literally move up the hill of the theatre into the audience, which is clever and immersive choice.
Unfortunately most everything else feels underwhelming. The singing and acting across the board were more amateurish than expected from Scera and the sets and choreography were weak. What was particularly strange is the way the actors worked humor into their roles. For example, when Maria sings, “Do-Re-Mi,” she ends the song with goofy pronunciations of the notes, and it came off as more odd than funny.
It is also strange when they have the chance to cast a couple in the lead roles with James Duncan and Emily Duncan, who play Captain von Trapp and Elsa Schraeder that they didn’t. Anya Wilson is fine as Maria but the chemistry was stronger between the Captain and Elsa, which is a weird thing to say in a production of The Sound of Music.
Especially when considering the incredible sets of the recent Spongebob at Scera, the sets for this production feel rather pedestrian. Did they blow the budget on other shows this year and had to be cheap for The Sound of Music? Most of it has a plain house background that didn’t capture the grand feel of the von Trapp mansion and was left static throughout many scenes. Unfortunately whether it was during the introduction of the children or the dance in the big ballroom, the backgrounds remained the same.
The costumes designed by Kelsey Seaver were well done, particularly the von Trapp children’s “play clothes” made out of her drapery that you see on the set when she first moves into the house. Maria is also seen wearing the postulate’s dress from an earlier scene when she comes back to the von Trapps in act II, which was a fun touch.
The lighting, by Elizabeth Griffiths, was effective, particularly in the concert scenes when they have red lights flashing and sirens blaring. It definitely helped create an immersive moment.
It’s always a fun experience to see an outdoor show, and The Sound of Music is a classic piece of musical theater. I couldn’t help but enjoy the delightful songs like, “The Sound of Music,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Maria,” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” All of these songs are performed at the Scera, so most theatergoers will have a good time. Unfortunately, Scera’s reputation sets up an expectation that was not met with this production. As I saw it opening night, hopefully all involved will grow into the show, and some of the wrinkles will be ironed out, but for now this musical did not soar the way it should have.
Full disclosure: Two family members of the president of Utah Theatre Bloggers Association, Russell Warne, auditioned for this production. Mr. Warne had no involvement with assigning a reviewer to this production or in the writing or editing of this piece. Honest criticism was encouraged.